Art - Outstanding donation to France by an American couple
On 22 October, the President of the Republic received Marlene and Spencer Hays at the Elysée Palace in the presence of French Minister of Culture and Communication Audrey Azoulay. The American couple, both of them true art lovers, confirmed the donation of their collection, composed of some 600 works from the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. The donation, remarkable both for its size and coherence, is the most significant that France’s museums have received from a foreign donator since 1945.
It will be carried out in several steps, the first of which, signed today, bears on 187 works, including 69 Nabi paintings. This initial group corresponds to the canvases first exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay in the spring of 2013 as part of the “Une Passion Française” exhibition.
It includes Edouard Vuillard’s Fillettes se promenant (Girls Walking - circa 1891) and the same artist’s seventh Jardins publics (Public Gardens) panel. Also included is a Japanese-style screen created by a young Pierre Bonnard and two decorative panels by Maurice Denis, Le Printemps (Spring) and L’Automne (Autumn). Two masterly compositions by Odilon Redon, Fleur rouge (Red Flower - circa 1905) and Vase de fleurs et profil (Vase of Flowers and Profile, circa 1905-1910) along with Maurice Denis’ Goûter au Pouldu (Picnic at Le Pouldu - 1900) and Aristide Maillol’s Les Lavandières (The Washerwomen - 1896) complete this Nabi and Symbolist ensemble.
Early 20th-century French art is also well represented, with works including André Derain’s Arlequin à la guitare (Harlequin with a Guitar), Albert Marquet’s Les Bas rouges (The Red Stockings - 1912), Amadeo Modigliani’s portrait of Chaïm Soutine (1917) and Aristide Maillol’s bronze, L’Été (Summer - 1911).
Begun in the early 1970s, the collection brings together American works alongside paintings and drawings of Paris in the 19th century and during the Belle Epoque (Anquetin, Béraud and Steinlen).
In the 1980s, the Hays discovered the Nabis, a passion they continued to cultivate, with, among others, Guy Cogeval, President of Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie. They expanded their collection with works by Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Aristide Maillol and Edouard Vuillard.
The Minister would like to pay tribute to these generous donators, who have chosen France as this outstanding heritage’s land of destination. Their gesture will do much to enrich the State’s collections. It confirms France’s place as a land where art is exhibited, looked at, studied and made the most of.
On the occasion of their meeting, the President of the Republic decorated them with the insignia of Commander of the Legion of Honour in recognition of their lives spent in the service of art and beauty, now shared with so many people.